Portrait de Thomas Hoeffgen
Portrait de Thomas Hoeffgen

Thomas Hoeffgen

https://www.artinterview.com/en/interviews/thomas-hoeffgen/

Thomas Hoeffgen, photographer, was born in Kiel (Germany). He is represented by the Jean Denis Walter Gallery.

Where did your passion for photography come from?

Very interesting question! Photography is a very fulfilling process for me, going from the initial image to the printed piece. These days, many things exist only in digital form, but for me the actual print is very important. Photography is a passion I started as a kid, wandering along photographing landscapes, friends, etc., playing around, and then I became a professional. That is what I loved from the beginning, so I went to photo school and moved on from there, got my first assignments quickly and then worked on my own projects.

What do you feel your art brings to society?

Art, in the end, is a personal expression. It is about what happens around you and affects you personally: it is an experience. For me, it is not about a single picture but a body of work to which you constantly contribute. You have to listen to yourself, be in touch with yourself and everything around you. It is important to live in a creative environment. Art is also a slow moving process: you create work, you then get a reaction to it that you may not have even thought of, and then you move on with that idea. It is a dialogue between what you put out, the feedback you get, and your further contribution to it: you then obtain a new series of images.

One body of work I finished in 2010 was African Arenas. I went to Nigeria for some photojournalistic work. It got published, and some gallerists acquired it and approached me to make an exhibition out of it because they loved it: it was all about football in Africa. So I thought “maybe I have something there?” – I enjoyed the contact with the culture, football, and everything in Africa: the space around it, where they play, why they play, and the passion about it. I followed that up for over ten years, and it is still an ongoing thing: there was an exhibition in the Brooklyn museum last year.

What do you think about photography today?

Another interesting question! I trained in analog photography – photographing on film – and I am still doing it. Photography has changed dramatically in the last 10 years. Today everybody is a photographer and is obsessed with shooting themselves, which is interesting, but to me that is a side view and is short-lived. My idea about it is that the photograph does not exist if it is not physical. If it is only digital and you crash your phone, it is gone. And the experience of photography is when you have it printed and maybe have a frame, or maybe not, but at least the physical side of it. These are very interesting times.

According to you, where is the actual art in an artist’s work?

For me, over a lifetime, a painter will paint hundreds of paintings, but only a couple will stick and be recognizable with your name – these are the masterpieces. I see it in my work: when you start creating a series of pictures, in the end, you have fifteen, but one or two will be amazing, while still belonging to the series. You cannot really create a masterpiece, it just happens in retrospect. The impression of having taken a great picture can happen often, but does not necessarily sustain time. Sometimes a masterpiece is also discovered later. If you take the images from African Arenas, five or six years after my first exhibition, people came back to image called Soweto. Initially I wanted to shoot the World Cup stadium in Johannesburg before the opening and I did not get permission, so I rented a helicopter and photographed the stadium. Since we had some time left, we cruised on a Sunday afternoon in Soweto and took pictures from the air, and that ended being one of the most recognizable pictures of the whole body of work. It was not planned: I had an image in mind of the stadium and this beautiful world cup, how I wanted to photograph it and I did it, but the much better picture in the end was Soweto. At least in my case, you cannot really plan it: sometimes it just happens.

What would “masterpiece” mean to you?

For me, over a lifetime, a painter will paint hundreds of paintings, but only a couple will stick and be recognizable with your name – these are the masterpieces. I see it in my work: when you start creating a series of pictures, in the end, you have fifteen, but one or two will be amazing, while still belonging to the series. You cannot really create a masterpiece, it just happens in retrospect. The impression of having taken a great picture can happen often, but does not necessarily sustain time. Sometimes a masterpiece is also discovered later. If you take the images from African Arenas, five or six years after my first exhibition, people came back to image called Soweto. Initially I wanted to shoot the World Cup stadium in Johannesburg before the opening and I did not get permission, so I rented a helicopter and photographed the stadium. Since we had some time left, we cruised on a Sunday afternoon in Soweto and took pictures from the air, and that ended being one of the most recognizable pictures of the whole body of work. It was not planned: I had an image in mind of the stadium and this beautiful world cup, how I wanted to photograph it and I did it, but the much better picture in the end was Soweto. At least in my case, you cannot really plan it: sometimes it just happens.

Who is your favorite artist? Is there a photographer you feel connected to?

Of course I am influenced by landscape or fashion photographers, but my main inspiration always comes back to watching good movies: old movies, new movies, but just the moving image has a huge influence on my work. I think the one who sticks out is Jim Jarmusch, one of my favourite directors because he is so visual, he has a very cinematic, graphic kind of way. Down by law is one of my favorites. I also like Richard Serra’s sculptures – if you experience this work it’s great – or the German minimalistic painter Gerhard Richter. As photographers are concerned, I admire Irving Penn, his passion and dedication over a lifetime, always exploring new things and working so hard on it on a daily basis. His still lives are just mind-blowing. There are a couple of still lives he shot from cigarette ends he collected on the street and brought into his studio, and they are amazing!

Why do you think art (and photography) is important in our lives?

Photography today tends to be a bit of a mass market and we are overwhelmed with photos on the Internet, and on Instagram, so it is hugely present in everybody’s lives. I am not sure it is art, but it is a photo experience. To have a real nice photo art print in your life is something else – I just got a beautiful letter from a French collector this morning, from my gallerist – the way they describe it, I simply can’t imagine – I take this photograph and I admire it. What other people see in it makes me really happy and makes me feel I have done something right. It is very difficult to quantify through.

What experiences marked you the most?

I have a quote in my book from a story I never forgot: coming across a few children playing football beneath a water tower on a stretch of road between Lusaka and Choma in Zambia. They were playing with a ball stitched together from plastic bags and I stopped there to look at the scene and there were five or ten kids in the middle of nowhere and me with a car, and I started climbing on top of the car, put the tripod on the camera. If I had been the kid, I would have stopped, looked at the car as if to say, “What are you doing?” – But not a glance! They kept on playing, and for them it was clear that they were right in the moment, only football mattered. That is an experience I sometimes have with photography, when I am just there, trying to compose an image. That is a similar to the way I approach photography, I just forget everything right and left and am immersed in the moment, to this day, after all these years, like a form of meditation.

Art, in the end, is a personal expression. It is about what happens around you and affects you personally: it is an experience.

Thomas Hoeffgen